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New Cabe chief takes good design to the summit


When Jon Rouse left Cabe to join the Housing Corporation, the architectural body was left in need of a new chief executive. Last week former Medway Council director of development and environment Richard Simmons was appointed as his replacement.Alasdair Reisner asks him about his plans.

Your career has seen you deal with challenges such as masterplanning Canary Wharf and overhauling rundown estates in North London.What issues will you face at Cabe?

We will soon have a new chair so one of my first challenges will be building a relationship with her or him. I am also relishing the chance to work with Cabe's in-house team and my role will mean developing close ties with Government and the professional institutions.

So what does the immediate future hold?

The next urban summit is foremost in our minds.

The first laid out an agenda.This will be about integrating those agendas and should act as the next step forward. A lot of the events and speakers are currently under wraps but we will certainly have a big presence.We will have a particular liaison with the housing market renewal pathfinders in the north of England. I think that is vital so we design places where people want to live rather than repeating the mistakes of the past.

Is Britain a world leader or lagging behind in building design?

If you look at the Venice Biennale there are a huge number of British architects on show there.They are some of the best in the world and they are working in the UK.We are at the leading edge of architecture and design and we are beginning to see significant progress not just in cities but in small towns.

Are we good across the board?

There are certainly sectors where we can be proud of the way buildings are designed.There has been good work on our courts, schools and MoD buildings.We are beginning to give recognition to the fact that good design has an effect on the people who use the buildings. If you design for the lifetime of the building good design can often work out as the cheapest way.

Cabe has been critical of healthcare design, particularly with respect to PFI hospitals.

For the hospitals it is early days.Cabe has done work that shows that people recover quicker in well designed hospitals. Improved design will also make life better for staff and reduce the dangers of MRSA 'superbug' infections. In order to get this message across I need to speak to senior people in the NHS and management at local health trusts.

Presumably you will be helped in this by the new chair of Cabe, following the resignation of Sir Stuart Lipton.Any news on who it will be?

The Department of Culture Media and Sport has carried out the whole process allowing complete impartiality.A whole range of names have been put forward but I have no idea who it will be.We are looking for someone who is committed to Cabe's values.They have to know the industry well but that doesn't mean that they have to come from within it.